Friday, August 20, 2004


Well, here I am, back in Israel/Palestine almost exactly one year after my last visit. For those of you who don't already know, Arab East Jerusalem remains safe and hospitable for visitors, so far as I can see. It's also *much* less expensive than the Western part of the city, and the folks here could use your business.

Earlier today, I happened by the shop where I did not misplace my hat last year, for anyone who remembers the story. At any rate, my friend the proprietor remembered both me and the hat, and immediately launched into a series of (somewhat discomfiting) hugs; I'm not a big hugger. When I asked how he had been since my last visit, he visibly deflated, and answered, "Not so good." I assumed he was talking about the depressed tourist trade, but it turns out that he and his shop were recently attacked by a group of Jewish settlers (of East Jerusalem, I believe), who want to drive him (and other Arab shopkeepers) out of his location near the Western Wall. He had pictures of the wreckage (I made digital copies), and I don't doubt his statement that there were 20,000 shekels in damage. My friend had several of his front teeth knocked out, and was severely beaten, spending 14 days in the hospital. He now has replacement dentures, which added thousands more to his losses.

Earlier in the week, I was delighted to run into a friend from NYC at an East Jerusalem hostel. We spent Tuesday on an ICAHD ( tour in the Galilee, which would have been even better if I hadn't been reacting strongly to the local water. Along the tour, we visited the site of one of the hundreds of Arab villages that were depopulated and razed to the ground in 1948. As in so many cases, there was no 'need' of the village for desperate Holocaust refugees; the land remains empty to this day. I had read about these villages, of course, although this was my first chance to see the empty hill next to an unmistakable picture of the same spot before its community was destroyed.

The thing that caught me unprepared, however, was that the village's remains were carefully covered by a JNF forest. Now, to many people this may not seem particularly noteworthy, but I, along with thousands of other Jewish children, used to give money to the JNF to 'plant a tree in Israel' and 'reforest' the country. If there was anything innocent and pure about Zionism, I would not have hesitated to say that this was it. What could be more inspiring than planting trees and bringing life to some long-barren desert? Yet now I discover that these forests were specifically planted over six destroyed Palestinian villages in the Jerusalem district, and three of the four destroyed villages in Nazareth, so that not even their memories would remain. And schoolchildren were lied to, and paid to have it done; I paid. Apparently, I am still not *entirely* beyond surprise. This I would not have imagined.


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